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Ron Howell

first African American elected to political office in Brooklyn, New York, and a leader in the mid-twentieth century effort to integrate American tennis, was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis, then part of the British West Indies. His mother was Lillian de Grasse Baker, whose family had successful retail businesses on the island; his father was the Reverend Alfred B. Baker, a Wesleyan Methodist minister.

Tragedy struck in 1900 when Lillian Baker died of consumption. Bertram, an only child, would find comfort in the care of his maternal grandmother, Eliza de Grasse. In 1905 Baker's father left Nevis, accepting an offer to become founding pastor of the Ebenezer Wesleyan Methodist Church in Brooklyn. The Reverend Baker would later also found the Beulah Wesleyan Methodist Church in Manhattan.

In 1915 the Reverend Baker returned to Nevis to pick up his seventeen year old son Bertram who ...

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Alexander J. Chenault

state legislator, and fifty-eighth mayor of New Orleans, was born Sidney John Barthelemy, the third of six children of Lionel Barthelemy, an insurance businessman, and Ruth Barthelemy, a beautician, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Roman Catholic, he grew up in the largely creole and catholic Seventh Ward section of the city and attended parochial schools—Corpus Christi Elementary School and then, later, St. Augustine High School, where he won the Purple Knight Award recognizing him as the best all-around student in 1960. After high school, he attended the Epiphany Apostolic Junior College in Newburgh, New York, and then entered St. Joseph Seminary in Washington, D.C., where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy in 1967 and pursued graduate study in theology (though he did not finish). While in seminary, he worked summers as a laborer in a stevedoring company. In 1968 Barthelemy married Michaele ...

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Linda M. Carter

state legislator, attorney, police officer, and social worker, was born Cora Mae Brown in Bessemer, Alabama, the only child of Richard and Alice Brown. Her father and mother were employed as a tailor and cook respectively. In 1922 the family moved to Detroit when Brown was seven years old. After graduating from Cass Technical High School in 1931, Brown attended Fisk University and received a degree in sociology in 1935.

Brown returned to Detroit, and until 1941, she was employed as a social worker. After working for the Children's Aid Bureau, Old Age Assistance Bureau, and the Works Progress Administration, Brown, as a policewoman in the Women's Division of the Detroit Police Department from 1941 to 1946, prepared legal cases. In 1946 Brown enrolled in Wayne State University's School of Law; she received her LL.B degree in 1948 and passed ...

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Russell Duncan

abolitionist and Georgia politician, was born free in Middlebrook, New Jersey, the son of John Campbell, a blacksmith, and an unknown mother. From 1817 to 1830 he attended an otherwise all-white Episcopal school in Babylon, New York, where he trained to be a missionary to Liberia under the auspices of the American Colonization Society. Rebelling against his training and calling himself “a moral reformer and temperance lecturer,” Campbell moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey, converted to Methodism, joined an abolition society, and began to preach against slavery, colonization, alcohol, and prostitution. He joined Frederick Douglass on speaking tours and participated in the Colored Convention Movement, a new nationwide organization that aimed at racial uplift and black voting rights.

From 1832 to 1845 Campbell lived and worked in New York City as a steward at the Howard Hotel Later for an undetermined period he worked at the Adams House ...

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Caryn E. Neumann

the first African American woman elected to the Florida legislature, grew up (and was likely born) in Miami. Cherry earned her bachelor's degree from the predominantly black Florida A & M University (FAMU) in 1946. She belonged to Sigma Gamma Rho, a black Greek-letter organization, and later served as legal counsel to the sorority from 1970 until 1970. Cherry obtained a master's degree from New York University in 1950. In the era of segregation, talented African Americans often left the South to obtain advanced degrees. Unlike many of them, Sawyer returned home to teach school, marry, and have children, before deciding to return to academic life. She earned a law degree cum laude in 1965 from FAMU, after serving as secretary of the Student Bar Association. She was the first black woman to practice law in Dade County, Florida.

A Democrat Cherry was elected to the Florida ...

Article

George Derek Musgrove

politician, was born Mervyn Malcolm Dymally in Cedros, Trinidad, to Hamid Dymally, an Indian businessman, and Andreid Richardson, a black Trinidadian. In Trinidad he attended Cedros Government School, St. Benedict School, and Naparima College, from which he graduated in 1944. Upon graduation Dymally took a job as a reporter for the Vanguard Weekly, the newspaper of the local oil workers union.

In 1946 Dymally immigrated to the United States to attend Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, where he planned to study journalism. Unable to adjust to the environment in Missouri, however, he dropped out after one semester and traveled around the United States in search of work and school. After two years of constant travel and countless jobs Dymally settled in Los Angeles, California, and began attending Los Angeles State College, where he received his BA in Education in 1954.

After graduation Dymally ...

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Susan Love Brown

journalist, educator, politician, and statesman. Mervyn Malcolm Dymally, born in Cedros, Trinidad, achieved many “firsts” in American politics. His mother, Andreid Richardson, of Trinidadian descent, and his father, Hamid Dymally, of South Asian descent, educated him through high school, at Naparima College in San Fernando, Trinidad, after which he worked as a reporter for the Oilfields Workers Trade Union newspaper, The Vanguard, in Trinidad. This spurred his interest in a journalistic career, which took him to Lincoln University in Missouri at the age of nineteen. Eventually, he moved to Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences, where he majored in education, receiving his bachelor's degree in 1954. From then on he combined education, politics, and involvement in international issues as the interests that guided his career.

While working as a science special education teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District ...

Article

James Edward Ford

city commissioner, entrepreneur, state representative, and prison reformer, was born a slave in Washington, North Carolina. Little information has been found concerning his early life and his parents. But it is agreed that Ellison was apprenticed to a local carpenter at a young age. By 1852 Stewart was working in Raleigh, North Carolina, on commercial construction projects. There is little information on his life during the Civil War. However, after the war he did open a grocery store, continued his work in construction, and became a building contractor, working with the Freedmen's Bureau to erect facilities for the newly freed men and women of Raleigh. Ellison occasionally attended night school, but he was mainly self-educated.

Ellison's political career began in the late 1860s when opportunities for blacks were opened up by Reconstruction. In early October 1866 he attended the State Equal Rights League Convention of ...

Article

Theresa C. Lynch

activist and Democratic state legislator from Buffalo, New York, was born in Harlem to Arthur B. Eve (a maintenance worker) and Beatrice Clark Eve (a theater cashier). His parents divorced when he was five or six years old and he moved to Miami, Florida, where he was raised by his mother and grandmother in a housing project. Eve excelled in sports; he ran track and played basketball for the all-black, segregated Dorsey High School. After earning his diploma in 1951, he attended West Virginia State College for three semesters, where he played basketball and studied physical education.

In 1953 Eve headed to Buffalo with two suitcases and $9 45 in his pocket He planned to earn money perhaps working in a steel mill and then return to college in the fall But the Korean War interrupted his plans and in May he was drafted into the United States ...

Article

Andre D. Vann

lawyer, educator, and first black chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, was born in Ellerbe, North Carolina, the eighth of the twelve children of Walter Frye and Pearl Motley, farmers. In the late 1920s his father sought to ensure financial security for his family by purchasing a forty-six-acre tobacco and cotton farm with the assistance of a loan from a local bank, which made him one of only a handful of blacks who owned land in Ellerbe. Later his father purchased a small sawmill from white owners. Frye attended the segregated Mineral Springs School in Ellerbe and graduated as valedictorian in 1949. In June 1953 he earned a BS in biology with highest honors from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College later North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U S Air Force and served ...

Article

Blake Wintory

photographer, politician, sheriff, assayer, barber, and lawyer, was born a slave in Carroll County, Kentucky. William Hines Furbush became a member of the Arkansas General Assembly as well as the first sheriff of Lee County, Arkansas. His Arkansas political career began in the Republican Party at the close of Reconstruction and ended in the Democratic Party just as political disfranchisement began.

Little is known about Furbush's early life, though his literacy suggests a formal childhood education. Around 1860 he operated a photography studio in Delaware, Ohio. In March 1862 he traveled to Union-controlled Helena in Phillips County, Arkansas, on Kate Adams and continued to work as a photographer. In Franklin County, Ohio, that December he married Susan Dickey. A few years later, in February 1865 he joined the Forty second Colored Infantry at Columbus Ohio He received an honorable discharge at the ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

fugitive slave, abolitionist, Union spy, and state senator, was born in Smithville (now Southport), Brunswick County, North Carolina, the son of Hester Hankins, a slave, and John Wesley Galloway, the son of a white planter who later became a ship's captain. In 1846 Hester Hankins married Amos Galloway, one of John Wesley Galloway's slaves. Abraham Galloway later recalled that his biological father “recognized me as his son and protected me as far as he was allowed so to do” (Still, 150), but John Wesley Galloway did not own Abraham. Abraham's owner was Marsden Milton Hankins a wealthy railroad mechanic from nearby Wilmington who may also have owned Hester Hankins Abraham considered Marsden Hankins a fair master but he was less forgiving of Hankins s wife who was overly fond of the whip Abraham apprenticed as a brick mason and as was common ...

Article

Bertis English

politician, civil rights activist, black nationalist, and labor leader, was born James K. Green in North Carolina. Little is known about Jim's parents or his childhood years, but eventually he became the valued servant of a Mr. Nelson, a wealthy Hale County, Alabama, planter who owned 500 slaves. Despite Green's somewhat privileged position among the bondmen, he was never taught how to read or write, but he did master carpentry. Consequently, Green became one of the relatively few black skilled laborers in the predominantly black cotton, or Black Belt, region of Alabama who were able to use their antebellum earnings to become economically independent once they were emancipated.

Following the Civil War, Green joined the Republican-led Union, or Loyal, League and entered politics. In 1867 he represented Hale County during the state constitutional convention. The same year, he succeeded Greene County Registrar Alexander Webb ...

Article

David E. Paterson

harness maker, state legislator, community organizer, and barber, was born on James Spier's farm, the Hurricane Place, three and a half miles from Thomaston, Upson County, Georgia, the fourth child of Guilford Speer and Viney, two of Spier's slaves. Guilford and Viney separated soon after William was born, and Guilford moved to Thomaston to operate a harness and shoe shop. William probably spent his earliest years with his mother, his three elder brothers, and several younger half siblings on the Hurricane Place, but by the late 1850s William had undoubtedly moved to the village and was learning his father's trade of harness making. In 1863 a devastating fire destroyed three-quarters of downtown Thomaston, and thereafter William probably worked in a shop organized by his father in Barnesville, Pike County, sixteen miles away.

Sometime during the Civil War, William married Lourinda presumably a slave but ...

Article

E. Renée Ingram

physician and surgeon who specialized in pulmonary medicine, was born in Lexington, Davidson County, North Carolina. He was the son of Henry M. and Laura Hargrave, farmers, and one of fourteen children; he attended local public schools in Lexington before attending the state normal school in Salisbury, North Carolina. Hargrave received a BS from Shaw University in 1901 and an MD from Leonard Medical School. Founded in 1885, Leonard Medical School was one of the first medical schools in the United States to have a four-year curriculum. It also was the first four-year medical school to train African American doctors and pharmacists in the South. Hargrave practiced medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, from 1901 to 1903 before relocating his private medical practice to Wilson, North Carolina, where he practiced from 1903 to 1924 and established the Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home. Hargrave married Bessie E Parker ...

Article

Linda Przybyszewski

businessman and politician, was born a slave in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, the son of a slave woman of mixed race. His father was reputedly his owner, James Harlan (1800–1863), a white lawyer, Kentucky politician, and the father of the first justice John Marshall Harlan (1833–1911). However, modern DNA analysis of male descendants from both families revealed no match. While still young, Robert Harlan arrived in Kentucky, where he began attending the public schools that were closed to black children. It seems that the boy's mixed-race heritage was not readily apparent, but he was expelled when the authorities learned of it. He continued his education at home, where James Harlan's older sons tutored him in their lessons despite his status as one of several slaves owned by James Harlan.

Robert Harlan began his business career as either a barber or a shopkeeper in Harrodsburg Kentucky He ...

Article

Stephen L. Harris

civil rights and community activist, business leader, state legislator, and Tuskegee Airman, was born in New York state to Henry Johnson, a World War I hero and recipient of the American Distinguished Service Cross. His maternal grandfather, Herman Phoenix, was in the early 1900s a leader in organizing the Niagara, New York, branch of the NAACP. Johnson himself was thirteen when he joined the NAACP. Although he lived and worked in several cities, he was most connected with Kansas City, Missouri. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Cornell University in 1938 and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Chicago in 1940.

Soon after earning his master s degree Johnson was a statistician for the War Production Board During World War II he enlisted and fought with the 332nd Fighter Group known as the Tuskegee Airmen Attaining the ...

Article

Jari Christopher Honora

statesman, minister, educator, businessman, and attorney, was born on the plantation of Dr. Francois Marie Prevost near Donaldsonville, Ascension Parish, Louisiana. He is purported to have been born to Rosemond Landry, a white laborer on the Prevost plantation and Marcelite, his slave mistress. He was born with the name Caliste. According to Landry's unpublished autobiography, he resided with a free couple of color and was educated at a school conducted for free children. Despite his owner's wish that he be freed, when Dr. Prevost's estate was settled on 16 May 1854 Caliste was auctioned off to Marius St Colombe Bringier a wealthy sugar planter in Ascension Parish He was sold for $1 665 Landry continued his education on Houmas the Bringier plantation and was trusted enough to live in the mansion He served various roles on Houmas Plantation eventually earning the position of superintendent ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

teacher, newspaper editor, labor activist, and state legislator, was one of five children born in Wilmington, North Carolina, to a slave mother, Eliza Mabson, and her wealthy white owner, George W. Mabson. Little is known of his early life or education before the end of the Civil War, only that he left Wilmington in 1865 to enter Lincoln University (formerly Ashmun Institute), in Pennsylvania, where he stayed for three years.

Like his older brother, George Lawrence Mabson, who was educated as a child in Massachusetts, William Mabson returned to North Carolina committed to the advancement of members of his race. There is no official record of his degree from Lincoln University, but he nonetheless became a popular teacher in a number of freedmen's schools across the state, including those in Rockingham, Abbottsburg, Rehoboth, Washington, and Leggetts. In 1870 he settled in Edgecombe County ...

Article

M. Lois Lucas

educator and state legislator, was born in Glen Ferris, West Virginia, the only child of Solomon and Luvenia Galloway Smallwood. The Smallwoods had moved from North Carolina during the early 1900s and settled in Fayette County in southeastern West Virginia. They later relocated to Glen Ferris in Raleigh County. Growing up in Glen Ferris during the Jim Crow era, Meadows experienced racial discrimination firsthand. She attended a poorly equipped, two-room elementary school for black children. Although a high school was only two miles from her parents' home, she had to travel twenty-five miles to attend Simmons High School for blacks.

After high school Meadows enrolled in West Virginia State College, where she earned a BA in Education in 1939. Her first teaching assignment came in 1941 at Summerlee Elementary School in Fayette County She recalled that often black schools were one room structures with no running ...